Online purchasing was first introduced in 1994. Now, nearly two decades later, it is revolutionizing retail. There were 2.05 billion online shoppers in 2020, and with a global population of nearly 8 billion, that means roughly one-fourth of the entire world shops online. Technology has come a long way since that first online purchase, but there are still hurdles to overcome. Consumers love the convenience of online shopping, but they miss the personalized experience of physically touching a product or trying it on. With improved device capability, 3D technology and augmented reality (AR) are ready to bridge the gap between customers and a fulfilling online shopping experience.
Shopping is Personal
We’ve all felt that momentary feeling of doubt just before clicking “submit” on an online order. The pants look good on the model, but will they fit? Is that chair going to look massively oversized in my living room? What if the color isn’t right? As we wait for the product to arrive, we might wonder how difficult it will be to return the item. By the time it lands on our doorstep, we’re worried before you’ve even opened the box.
Shopping online simplifies so many things. We have a world of selection at our fingertips and can purchase essentially anything we want with the click of a button. On the other hand, we still can’t fully experience a product we intend to buy before putting the money down.
According to a survey from the National Retail Federation, consumers returned about 16.6 percent of the merchandise they bought online in 2021. Those returns added up to over $761 billion.
The disconnect between customers and the products they purchase is the most significant disadvantage of online shopping. E-commerce has never been able to completely replicate the personal experience of browsing a brick-and-mortar store. This, however, is where emerging 3D and AR technology stands to bridge the gap.
3D and AR
The process of creating a 3D model of a product involves three steps. First comes geometric modeling, wherein the 3D modeler uses a group of points in three-dimensional space to render a geometric model of an object. Next comes texturing, in which the 3D modeler textures the object by adding surface detail and color to make it appear realistic. Finally comes asset formatting. Here, the 3D modeler exports the completed object as a format that can be embedded into a 3D viewer.
The 3D viewer is the area where you can display and interact with these 3D models. You can turn the objects around, see them from any angle, zoom in and out, and change their color.
The inclusion of AR alongside 3D modeling allows the customer to view these 3D objects in real-world settings. Through their smartphone camera feed, a customer can seamlessly project these 3D objects onto an image of their choice and see the 3D model displayed on their screen in their selected setting.
AR Makes Online Shopping Convenient and Personal
With the integration of e-commerce platforms onto mobile devices, more and more people are turning to the convenience of online shopping. Still, it’s hard to let go of the personal experience. After all, who hasn’t driven miles to check out a piece of furniture in person or physically try on some clothes, only to whip out their phone and find a better price online?
Though customers prefer convenience overall, they still crave that interactive shopping experience. Virtual shopping with 3D and AR delivers the best of both worlds. Access to in-depth product information, an interactive experience, and an opportunity to customize a product enable buyers to feel confident they are getting exactly what they want.
Where Will You See 3D and AR in Retail?
The most effective applications for 3D and AR are in retail situations with standardized sets of products that can be customized. The more customizable the product, the more valuable the experience.
For example, a feature called Virtual Try On enables customers to see how they would look wearing apparel, footwear, glasses, or accessories. They can view themselves on their smartphone wearing the product from different angles, zoom in to see every detail, and even explore all the different colors or styles available before ordering.
When shopping for furniture, a Virtual Try Out feature allows one to see precisely how a piece of furniture will look in their home. Lamps, hardwood flooring, or sofas can be instantly transported into any living space. Being able to look at the furniture in a particular room and move it to various locations offers shoppers a valuable opportunity to interact with the product in ways they never could before.
When shopping for a car, AR allows a customer to personalize the trim, accessories, interior, and paint color before they purchase it. In addition, they can view a realistic 3D model of their new creation from every angle and even hop inside for a virtual feel before driving it off the lot.
While AR is still a relatively new innovation in the world of online shopping, it is a trend rapidly gaining momentum amongst consumers and retailers alike. In the not-so-distant future, shoppers will likely find themselves able to experience almost every product through a completely personalized experience before purchasing it, and that nagging anxiety after placing an order will be a thing of the past.
The author, Angelo Colletta, is the CEO and Founder of Zakeke